By: Lisa Cathelyn
After several hours of travel by plane, train, and foot, the three young adult pilgrims — Kascha Sanor, Katie Dorner, and me (Lisa) — arrived safely to the Eternal City on September 28. I feel such ease in where we are staying — Casa Santa Raffaella, home of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Like our motherhouses throughout the United States, there is a sense of both peace and welcome, prayerfulness and joy. What a gift!
September 29 began with an opening circle and introductions, where we were invited to bring a sacred object with us to represent who we are carrying with us and how we are called to show up together. I brought a prayer card that depicted the first sisters in Le Puy in 1650! The whole CSSJ family is accompanying us, ensuring that we are pursuing all which women are capable.
The afternoon and evening included a journey on foot to the Jesuit Curia, near St. Peter’s Square. The event, hosted by Together 2023, introduced participants to the Catholic synodal process and explored connections to the recent World Youth Day in Portugal. Speakers included Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich (Luxembourg), Archbishop Tim Costelloe (Australia), Momoko Nishimura (Japan), and Rev. Dr. Sr. Lalitha Thomas (India). We also had a chance to participate in small group spiritual conversations, an embodied way to practice synodality.
The testimony of Sr. Lalitha, a sister, sociologist, and joyful woman of God, was particularly inspiring to me. She shared the dream of a “dancing church,” one that is in rhythm and exists in harmony, a give-and-take. The imagination is so important for the renewal of the church! Can we also dare to dream of a dancing church?
After the session concluded, the delegation members offered to pray with Sr. Lalitha Thomas as she prepared to enter this phase of the Synod. We prayed for the graces of humility, health, openness, and patience. After all, the Holy Spirit is the protagonist of the Synod! I invite you to also hold the delegates in prayer as they participate in an opening retreat.
“Small is Beautiful”
On September 30, we participated in various workshops hosted by Together 2023. A spirit of ecumenism flowed, thanks to the wisdom of pilgrims gathered, Taizé music, and representatives from various denominations in St. Peter’s Square for the Prayer Vigil.
I attended a session entitled “Rome through the Eyes of a Refugee,” hosted by the Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre (JNRC), a non-governmental organization that is supported by the Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s Within the Walls. About 60 young adult pilgrims joined the session, held in the sanctuary of St. Paul’s. We began with a Taizé chant that folks knew — regardless of language or nationality —a truly beautiful moment of ecumenism and universality of the call of the Gospel.
The Executive Director of the Refugee Centre spoke about the current toxic narratives that persist in Italy and elsewhere in the European Union. I felt an immediate resonance with his comments, recalling how migrants are portrayed in national media in the United States: as invaders, as a crisis, to be feared, instead of a fellow sibling in Christ. As we toured the JNRC, I was struck by how familiar it felt to CSSJ sponsored ministries that serve migrants. I thought of The Neighborhood Center in Philadelphia; Casa San Jose in Baden; and the Orange and Brentwood congregations’ accompaniment of refugees in the past few years. Of course, people of good will here in Rome also heed the call to care for dear neighbor in a posture of hospitality. One of the parting words of the UN staff member was, “small is beautiful;” the most important act we can do is how we treat others and affirm our shared humanity. Another deep resonance to the Charism and the “Little Design!”
Kascha Sanor attended a workshop that focused on the German synodal process. The session highlighted the common global themes that have arisen, particularly the roles of women, gender inclusion, and the real tensions within the Catholic tradition that require reconciliation. Kascha mentioned a deeply meaningful ecumenical conversation about how as young people, our relationship to tradition has evolved. Because of that, young people (including us!) are hungry for genuine faith formation in communities of belonging. The pilgrims had a chance to meet Helena Jeppesen-Spuhler, one of ten lay Europeans who will vote during the synod. Kascha left the session feeling incredibly hopeful. Helena was an incredible pastoral presence, and we trust that she will carry the voices of young adults and the fruits of the synodal process.
Together in Prayer in St. Peter’s Square
The workshops were followed by the big ecumenical prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square. Throughout the world, folks were encouraged to gather in prayer on the eve of the Synod. I was so moved by the variety of languages we prayed in — from Amharic to Arabic, Chinese, Italian, and Spanish — and felt so grateful for the chance to participate in this historic moment. The liturgy was marked by the San Damiano cross, so many languages, and an ecumenical spirit. You can read Pope Francis’ homily from the vigil here.
I really enjoyed the musical gifts of the singers and instrumentalists, who led us in Taizé prayers throughout the service. I couldn’t get over the four-part harmonies and ways that voices soared in the square! In addition to music, we also listened to the powerful testimony of two refugees from Colombia and Syria, who encouraged us to be artisans of peace. Throughout the prayer vigil, we prayed for all the delegates we have encountered, entrusting them to the care of Jesus in these days of Synod.
At one point, a young Italian man sang the “Canticle of the Creatures” a cappella. Laudato Si’, mi Signore, praise be, my God. Praise, indeed!
Up next: a day trip to Assisi, touring the Vatican museums, and the Opening Mass of the Synod — and plenty of pizza and prayers. Stay tuned in to our social media channels (Facebook and Instagram) throughout the week.
[Lisa Cathelyn is the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]